Machiavelli on the Haters

In his Discorsi, which are rapidly threatening to unseat the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius as my favorite practical guide to life, the Florentine analyst explains the futility of attempting to appease, accommodate, reason with, or otherwise win over those whose enmity is ultimately rooted in envy. It’s from Chapter 30, That a Citizen in His Own Republic Who Wishes to Employ His Authority for Some Good Work Must First Extinguish Envy:

This text takes note of what a good and wise man should do, of how much good it can bring about, and how great a benefit such actions can bestow upon his native city when, through his goodness and exceptional ability, he has extinguished envy, which is on many occasions the cause of men’s inability to do good deeds, since it does not permit them to enjoy the authority necessary in important matters. This envy is extinguished in two ways: either through some serious and difficult incident, where someone, seeing himself lost, defers every ambition and willingly races to obey the man he believes may, with his exceptional ability, deliver him; this happened to Camillus, who, having given so many indications of being a most excellent man, having been dictator three times, and having always conducted that office for the benefit of the public rather than for his own, had acted in such a way that men did not fear his greatness; and since he was so great and so renowned, they did not deem it shameful to be inferior to him (and for that reason, Livy wisely declares in these words: ‘nor did they believe, etc.’). * Such envy is extinguished in another way when, either through violence or the natural course of events, those men die who have been your competitors in attaining a certain reputation and a certain level of greatness; such men will never be able to acquiesce or remain patient, seeing you are more highly esteemed than they. Furthermore, when they are men accustomed to living in a corrupt city, where education has produced no good in them whatsoever, in order to fulfil their wishes and to satisfy their perversity of mind, they will be happy to see the ruin of their native city.

To conquer such envy, there is no other remedy than the death of those who feel it, and when fortune is so favourable to a man of exceptional ability that he dies in a normal fashion, he becomes illustrious without scandal from the moment that, without any obstacle or harm, he can demonstrate his exceptional skill. But when he does not have such good fortune, he must think about every means of removing the envious from his path, and before he does anything else, he needs to adopt methods that will overcome this difficulty. Anyone who reads the Bible intelligently will see that, in order to advance his laws and his institutions, Moses was forced to kill countless men, who were moved to oppose his plans by nothing more than envy. * Brother Girolamo Savonarola recognized this necessity very clearly; Piero Soderini, the standard-bearer of Florence, also recognized it. The former (that is, the priest) could not overcome envy, because he lacked sufficient authority to do so, and because he was not well understood by those who followed him and who might have possessed such authority. Nevertheless, he did what he could, and his sermons are full of accusations and invectives against the wise men of the world: for this is what he called such envious men as well as those who opposed his institutions. The latter believed he could extinguish that envy in the passing of time through kindness, his own good fortune, and favours to some; he saw himself to be rather young and with the great new popularity his mode of conduct brought him, he believed he could overcome those many who opposed him out of envy without any unusual acts, violence, or disorder, and he did not know that time does not wait, kindness is insufficient, fortune varies, and malice receives no gift that placates her. In this way both of these two men came to ruin, and their downfall was caused by not knowing how or not being able to overcome this envy.

Discourses, Machiavelli

If it sounds a little bit too much like the average suburban mother’s analysis – they’re just being mean to you because they are jealous of you – keep in mind that Machiavelli literally recommends having them executed. While that isn’t generally an option for people who are not Roman consuls, Renaissance princes, or dark lords, what that means in a practical quotidian sense is that one should pay absolutely no attention to anything that the trolls, haters, and critics want, and one should not ever bother to engage with them in any way.

It’s really rather remarkable how many of the great minds of the past clearly observed the gamma mindset in action, they simply never happened to label it.

I view this section as additional support for my decision to not revive the comments here on the blog, as well as for the autoblocking of every social media account that attempts to correct, criticize, or contradict my posts on the posts themselves. While I neither object to nor mind correction, criticism, or being contradicted, those who wish to do so can do so on their own time, in their own space. As it happens, very little is lost this way, as the noise-to-signal ratio is so great that the extinction of the envious from the discourse is well worth the cost of losing the occasional substantive critique.